In World of Warships, Multitasking is Key to Survival

Righting the ship.

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Lesta Studio is a veteran developer that's spent the last 23 years making military games. Located on the banks of the Neva River in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the studio is set inside a light, modern building, and is where development on the next in the series of publisher Wargaming’s World of series--in this case World of Warships--is currently taking place. I was here to experience the closed beta for the game, Wargaming's nautical take on the historical military battle genre the publisher has found such significant success in.

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After a few minutes of training (which was time well spent since the UI in the closed beta build was somewhat unintuitive), I began my first real battle. It was predictably chaotic and consisted mainly of missed shots, near collisions, and on-deck fires. It also taught me that tactical combat in World of Warships is like nothing we've seen before from Wargaming.

The reasons for this are manifold, but the most important one is multitasking. Ships move and function very differently than land or air vehicles, and fighting with them requires more than just aiming and shooting. Battleships and aircraft carriers are powerful, slow-moving behemoths that rely on strategic placement and heavy armor. Using them requires managing anti-aircraft guns and scout planes while staying hidden, because being spotted by enemies will lead to certain death. On the other hand, smaller ships like cruisers and destroyers have speed on their side, but using them involves handling cannons, artillery, and torpedoes while chugging around the map doing reconnaissance.

Whatever vessel you choose, you're bound to be impressed by its high level of detail. The U.S. and Japanese ships seemed modeled to the last bolt, an impression confirmed by senior technical artist Alexander Zotikov. The mathematician-turned-3D artist has been modeling ships for the last two years and said that individual models can take up to six months worth of work to complete, sometimes for unexpected reasons:

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"When I was modeling the Japanese air carrier I had a Japanese blueprint that had a light on it, and we needed to know which color to use. There was a Japanese label pointing to the light, and we spent half an hour translating it with Google translator. (laughs) Turns out it just said, 'light'," he said.

This degree of fidelity can also be seen in the game's maps. Water, land, weather and varying qualities of light are realistic but aesthetically heightened. The result is a game that's far and away the best-looking in Wargaming's stable.

Though beautiful, World of Warships' maps are built for fighting, not picnicking. They're sprinkled with land masses that can be deadly to the unskilled or unwary, and varying visibility makes it all too easy to steer your huge metal beast into serious trouble. The mini-tournament I played took me through three maps, all of which were a challenge. So much goes on during a sea battle: planes strafing, guns firing, torpedoes approaching--it's all you can do to plan attacks, repair damage, turn turrets and monitor cooldowns, but on top of that you have to keep an eye on both sky and sea.

The visit to the Saint Petersburg office was certainly edifying, but it left me wondering how World of Warships would address its accessibility issues. I got the chance to find out a few weeks later when I played the open beta, which showed some notable improvements from the earlier closed beta.

The changes are apparent from the start. New players are guided first to a co-op battle, a mode that allows them to team up with other new players against AI enemies. I played several co-op battles on randomly-chosen maps, and they seemed great for studying different battle conditions and improving aim. At level two, random battles unlocked, and along with them daily missions. Performing these daily objectives gives new players the chance to "learn and earn," i.e., hone their command skills and earn both XP and doubloons (at a reduced rate).

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In addition to the new player improvements, there were other new features in the open beta: signal flags, the commander crew system, and the abilities system. Historically, signal flags were used to communicate messages among ships, and World of Warships also uses them for this but compounds their usefulness by having them grant ship bonuses. Similarly, the new commander crew system grants commanders performance-enhancing perks such as aiming expert or torpedo armament expert. Finally, the new abilities system gives players the chance to customize their ships with upgrades like engine boost and defense AA fire.

World of Warships could still do more in terms of accessibility, but it's already better than other Wargaming products. Most importantly, its dynamism has the potential to broaden its appeal, taking it beyond the usual audience of military/naval history fanatics and into (pun intended) the mainstream.

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